Competition is always healthy. After dominating the realm of multiplayer first person shooters for so many years, DICE’s Battlefield series has been overtaken in recent times by the surging emergence of Call of Duty and its Modern Warfare brand. The first Bad Company was a step in the right direction, offering a substantial multiplayer package whilst also showcasing the Swedish developer’s first attempt at a dedicated single player campaign, complete with memorable characters and an actual plot. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 looks to refine that single player experience whilst also setting a new standard for squad-based multiplayer shooters, offering a healthy alternative to the Modern Warfare 2 juggernaut.
The boys of B-Company are back yet again, though Bad Company 2 is a much more serious tale than its predecessor’s Three Kings style hunt for gold. A mysterious WMD has fallen into the enemy’s hands and Sarge, Sweetwater, Haggard and Marlowe have been drafted into a special-ops unit to help put a stop to this weapon and the threat it poses to the US. It’s a fairly simple military tale more in tune with any number of recent modern shooters than the more novel concept of the first game. You can expect plenty of Generation Kill lingo, large set pieces and obvious plot twists as you head for the anticlimactic ending. It’s not great but it serves its purpose, moving events from Alaska to Bolivia and beyond as B-Company traverse the globe with the simple objective of stopping this super weapon.
However, what Bad Company 2’s narrative may lack in originality and intrigue it more than makes up for with its returning characters. These are real, living, breathing people with more personality than the protagonists of any other shooter on the market. They may not be the most complex bunch, but in this war-torn scenario there’s no group I’d rather spend more time with than B-Company and all of their flaws, humour and daft political comments. Whether they’re discussing their favourite scene from Predator, pondering why Afro-American’s call 50 Cent “Fiddy” instead of “Fifty” or taking a friendly dig at Modern Warfare 2 (“Snowmobiles are for pussies”), the dialogue always feels completely natural and consistently hits the right comedic notes. It certainly keeps the downtime entertaining and ends up being a highlight of the six hour campaign as you get to know this rag-tag bunch of regular Joe’s (albeit one’s with exceptional military talents) as they’re thrust into an unimaginable situation.
The rest of the single player campaign is fairly uneven, starting off slowly before eventually opening up and picking up the pace during the last few hours. You’ll fight your way through many different locales, most notably freezing cold mountains, dense jungles and expansive desert towns. The art design in each is sublime, showcasing some awe inspiring vistas reaching as far as the eye can see, while the weather and surrounding environment can also cause distractions you’ll need to adapt to. From snow obscuring your vision and sand being swept up and covering enemies in its murky browns and golds, the climate and visuals actually have an important effect on the gameplay. However, Bad Company 2 doesn’t have the same sort of scale as the first game, instead funnelling players down a fairly linear path in order to extort even more grandiose set pieces. It works well for the most part and there’s definitely some leeway to tackle situations from multiple angles, but if you enjoyed the large scale environments from the first game you may be a little disappointed that they rarely show up here. It can also be pretty tough in places, so you’ll normally end up relying on rote enemy placement memorisation to get through particular areas. The rest of B-Company are always with you along the way, and while the AI does a good job of keeping up with the action and looking busy, they’ll rarely ever kill anybody, leaving you to deal with the waves upon waves of rushing enemies. It’s not a large issue but it’d be nice to get some help every now and then.
But despite the single player’s flaws the shooting mechanics are tight, intuitive and enjoyable enough to keep the campaign engaging as you begin collecting more and more weaponry for your arsenal. Bad Company 2 loves its guns so much that finding them all will unlock rewards and Achievements, skipping past something like hidden Intel in favour of encouraging you to seek out and find the good stuff. There are tons of distinct assault rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, light machine guns and so on, with different variations of certain guns and multiple attachments for each. The majority of the weapons are fantastic fun to use and you can start each mission with a different loadout to customise the game to the way you want to play. Each gun and weapon type has a significant feel, and when fighting across long distances you even have to consider gravity in the equation. There’s nothing more rewarding than sniping someone from one hundred metres away with a perfect headshot, the bullet dipping downwards as it reaches the target. The single player may be fairly lacklustre at times but the shooting mechanics are second to none so you won’t mind too much.
Plus, most of those added weapon attachments, like grenade launchers, offer a multitude of additional explosive action. Like its predecessor, Bad Company 2’s main pull will always be its destruction, and this time around it’s been improved upon. Destruction 2.0 is the name, and while it doesn’t really change too much you can certainly marvel at its technical wizardry. Before, a grenade launcher would blow a hole in any sort of scenery, usually to expose a group of enemies holed up in a house, create a new path through a level or make you highly cautious of your surroundings and cover. In Bad Company 2 that same effect still takes place, but blow up enough walls and the foundations will begin to crumble as the whole structure comes crashing down. It’s never really utilised since it takes time and ends up being easier to just shoot the enemy, but once you’re in the driving seat of a tank or flying one of the explosive UAVs, it can become a useful and enjoyable tactic, both in your hands and the enemy’s as your cover is literally blown away.
And this carries over to the extensive multiplayer package. Conquest is on the agenda, as usual, with two teams vying for control of three bases spread across the map. Rush makes a return from the first Bad Company (then called gold rush) that has two teams taking it in turns to attack and defend targets, while squad rush sees a smaller version of it and squad deathmatch rounds things out. Maps vary in location not too dissimilar from those seen in the single player campaign, meaning you’ll need to deal with the same kind of weather and particle effects. Add to this dynamic geometry and terrain, dense foliage, multiple destructible structures and expertly positioned objectives and you have some of the most finely balanced and varied maps available. Not to mention their spectacular scale, often stretching far and wide to provide some of the most open and tactical battles rarely seen in multiplayer shooters.
Some are suited to the plethora of vehicles on offer with tanks, jeeps, armoured trucks, the powerful but extremely-hard-to-control helicopters and even zippy quad bikes, but most of the time you’ll be on foot utilizing various classes and squad tactics. Each class, be it assault, engineer, medic or recon, comes with its own set of weapons, gadgets and specialisations. Performing well and earning points in Bad Company 2’s progressive ranking system will unlock certain gadgets, ranging from gun attachments like smoke grenades, more powerful RPGs and C4, to the more squad friendly medi-packs, defibrillators and ammo boxes. Meanwhile, specialisations focus on scopes for your weapons, extra body armour, grenade vests or extra ammunition and vehicular improvements among others. The ranking system is as terrific as ever, constantly rewarding the player with new weapons and items, and the customisation available for each class is significant, allowing you to build up each class with particular strengths far reaching the most apparent.
However, Bad Company 2’s most defining feature is its tactical awareness and focus on teamwork. If you want to win you’ll need to be a team player, working together to earn kills and attack and defend objectives. Even if you’re just a recon, sitting back and sniping, you can help the team – besides the obvious killing – by “spotting” enemies so that they appear on the radar and screen for your whole squad to see. This can be done with any class at any time, so if you don’t think you can get the kill you can hit a button and you’ve successfully pinpointed an enemy, making him a far easier target for the rest of your team. Then, of course, you have the medics who can drop health for people; the assault class can drop ammo and the engineer who fixes vehicles on the move. There’s nothing more exciting than defending a structure with your whole team working in tandem, “spotting” enemies for each other, resupplying and healing, and even bringing them back to life. These moments may depend on who you’re playing with, but so far the community seems especially adept at dealing with all of the nuances of Bad Company 2’s multiplayer.
Although if you’re new to the series it may be a tough introduction. The single player campaign has a fairly generous aim assist that is absent from the multiplayer, and the game doesn’t do a particularly good job of teaching you the ropes. Attempting to pilot the helicopters without training is suicide and basic skills that you might not know even existed are never revealed. It’s only a slight flaw, but if this is your first Battlefield and you’re looking to go online you may want to scour the internet for any tips before entering the battle.
If you do decide to jump in prepare to be amazed by the spectacular sound. Each and every weapon sounds sublime with the noise changing depending on your position. Fire across a large distance in an open space and it will reflect that; fire in a tight corridor at close range and the acoustics will adapt perfectly. Explosions sound different depending how far or close your proximity is, muffling from close range and deafening as your ears start ringing. Battle chatter is exceptional in single player and multiplayer as your squad communicate, signalling out enemies and adding their own unique chatter to give everything a natural feel. War is Hell and Bad Company 2 does as good a job as any reflecting that in its sound design. You know when it’s time to cover as bullets whizz past your ear and a tank blows apart a house, the broken brinks crumbling all around as injured teammates go down in agony.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 thrives on these moments of war-torn chaos. Its brand of epic, large scale, squad based multiplayer is rarely seen on consoles, taking what was great about the original Bad Company and Battlefield 1943 and refining it with a substantial amount of engaging game types and phenomenal map design to create one of the best multiplayer experience available. The single player is a bit of a letdown as it’s obvious DICE spent the majority of their time working on the online, but the core gameplay is enjoyable enough and the characters memorable enough that it’s worth one playthrough, at least. The overall package might not topple Modern Warfare 2’s throne, but the multiplayer might have just surpassed it. Competition is always healthy.